Thursday, January 30, 2014

World Building for the Blonde and Disoriented

A reader told me the other day that they love my world building, and that I made her feel like she was really there, in the story.

I checked the email address and the rest of the conversation to see if she was really talking to me.

Because here's the thing - I'm blonde. And when it comes to being grounded in place and time, I'm really blonde. This blonde, in fact:

I'm the sort of person who can get lost on the main street of a small town, who can't remember where the car is parked in a parking garage, and who has been known (truth) to write scenes where the sun comes up in the west and sets in the east.

So when I get feedback that I've managed to create a scene that comes alive, and that the setting seems vivid and real and people feel like they're right there in the middle of the action, I really experience a moment of shocked surprise.

Maybe in this case my disability has worked in my favor. I have to work hard to ground myself, and that in turn helps to ground my reader.

When I was a kid in school we had a teacher that used to take us out of the classroom, sit us down somewhere outside and make us write  descriptions of the scenery. I drafted horribly flowery passages overflowing with adjectives and adverbs, more purple than a giant singing dinosaur. At the time I thought they were lovely beyond words. Then I spent years learning to cut out the crap.

But I still remember those sessions when I'm writing. And I try to engage all of the senses. What does my writer see? Hear? Taste? Touch? Feel?

Most of us are more tuned to sight than the other senses, so descriptions tend to be heavy on the visual. Don't get me wrong - this is very important. We need to see where we are. But Science has actually shown us that some of the other senses have a more visceral connection to emotional memory. Just think about that one love song from twenty years ago (or thirty or forty) that can still pretty much reduce you to tears. Or that smell that evokes a powerful childhood memory for you - baking cookies, or pine trees, or the smell of a pig farm - whatever.

Just for fun, try a writing exercise sometime where you take yourself somewhere away from your desk and sit with your eyes closed for five minutes. (No napping allowed!) Focus on all of the sounds you hear. How the air feels around you. What you can smell. And then take a few minutes to write all that down.

Next time you're writing a scene and you need some description, do that for your character. Of course you can't put all of that in or your readers would toss the book before the end of the first page. So the next step is selecting which details have some emotional significance or might serve to help develop plot or character.

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